In these last days of the year, we're airing conversations about the future. Today, we turn to David Kilcullen, who imagines future wars in his book, "Out of the Mountains." Kilcullen served in the Australian Army then went on to advise U.S. General David Patraeus in Iraq. Kilcullen told my colleague Steve Inskeep that warfare is chanting in three ways. First, it's becoming more urban. Second, technology is changing warfare; he notes how quickly news spread of Moammar Gadhafi's death in Libya in 2011.
Following the popularity of companies like Airbnb, which rent out a client's house or apartment to people visiting the area, more companies are trying the idea with cars. Companies like Uber help find someone to drive you around like a taxi. Another will let you rent out your car like a Zipcar while you're at work.
As a middle-school student in the 1980s, Lee Buono stayed after school one day to remove the brain and spinal cord from a frog. He did such a good job that his science teacher told him he might become a neurosurgeon someday.
When it comes to health care, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be measured in the millions. That's how many people were expected to sign up for insurance to begin on Jan. 1.
But for both supporters and opponents of the law, there's one number that sticks out above all others. Six. That's how many people actually managed to enroll through the federal HealthCare.gov website the first day it opened, Oct. 1.
To many Afghans, 2014 is more than a year — it's a sword of Damocles hanging over the fragile nation. It's the year the country will elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led military mission will end. Many fear that will open the door to chaos.
But on a chilly winter day in Kabul, it's still business as usual in the city center.
In a stationary market, you can still buy calendars for this year — the year 1392. Afghanistan uses the Persian solar calendar, and in March the year 1393 begins.
There has been no shortage of noteworthy new books this year. In fact, the prospect of choosing just a few of them to recommend to NPR's Steve Inskeep "kind of overwhelmed" librarian Nancy Pearl. So, "out of a sense of desperation," she says, Pearl combed through her own personal library stacks for some of her favorite titles from years past that readers might have missed the first time around.
For President Obama, 2013 wasn't just the year of Obamacare. It was also the year of the brain.
In April, Obama announced his Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative — an effort to unlock "the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 4:57 pm
We are awash in war films, and why is it that nonfiction films such as Dirty Wars or Iraq in Fragments increasingly resort to the dramatizing techniques of narrative film, while fiction films strain toward procedure, as if to avoid the sticky business of interpretation altogether?
Earthquake scientists on the West Coast would like to build a system that would give people a bit of warning before they get jolted with strong shaking from a distant quake.
Seismic waves take time to travel from the epicenter, which means such a warning system could issue alerts ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes. A prototype has been developed for the region, seismologists say, but the complete network still lacks funding, and has big gaps outside cities.
Meanwhile, Japan already has something like that up and running.
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 4:21 pm
After spending a year and a half in jail, a Philadelphia Roman Catholic priest convicted of child endangerment will go free after a court overturned the 2012 verdict.
NPR's Jeff Brady says although Monsignor William Lynn, 62, was never accused of abuse himself, he was convicted in 2012 of putting children in danger by moving abusing priests to unwitting parishes. Lynn was an official of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the time.
At the Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines, Iowa, health insurance navigator Andrea Pearce stood in a crowded dining hall on a recent day, shouting instructions on how residents can sign up for Medicaid.
"If you do not have insurance and you want to enroll and you have an e-mail address where you know the password," she said, "come to the computer lab we will guide you through the application."
In a clinic in southern Turkey, Mohammed Ibrahim helps 23-year-old Syrian Mustapha Abu Bakr take his first steps since he lost his legs, holding on to a set of bars for balance.
"He can't express his feelings," Ibrahim says. "It's a new thing completely for him."
Ibrahim explains that patients who have lost a leg below the knee can walk out of the clinic without crutches after a day of practice. For double amputees like Abu Bakr, who was injured in Syria's civil war, the adjustment takes more time.
Utah's surprise decision to legalize same-sex marriage caps a landmark year for gay rights. The last 12 months saw a huge string of victories, from state legislatures, to Congress, to the Supreme Court.
Reporter John Otis was looking for a flight to Venezuela. That may sound like a simple task, but air travel to and from that Latin American country turns out to be extremely complicated these days. Here's his story.
A direct flight from my home in Bogotá, Colombia, to Caracas, Venezuela, takes about 90 minutes. But when I tried to buy a ticket recently, none were available. I was offered a flight with an overnight stop in Miami, but that would have cost $5,000.
As the volume of online orders surged, some retailers and package delivery companies were unable to fulfill promises to deliver gifts by Christmas. UPS acknowledged it was overwhelmed by all the late traffic. In response to complaints, Amazon says it is offering gift cards and refunds for shipping charges.
As the U.S. economy continues to recover, it has been getting some help from an unexpected place. After decades of massive job losses, manufacturing firms have been steadily creating jobs — many of them well-paying. One particularly bright spot is a new generation of high-tech manufacturers.
The Gulf nation of Qatar has nearly depleted its groundwater, and will increasingly need to import food. Some farms still operates on ground water, but in the long haul, Qatar is counting on desalination and using money to import food.
The nation's capital is not exactly a beach town. But the cherry-tree-lined Tidal Basin, fed by the Potomac River, laps at the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. And, especially since Superstorm Sandy, officials in Washington have a clear idea of what would happen in a worst-case storm scenario.
"The water would go across the World War II memorial, come up 17th Street," says Tony Vidal of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "And there are actually three spots where the water would come up where we don't have ... a closure structure right now."
When President Obama announced his BRAIN Initiative in April, he promised to give scientists "the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action."
An early version of one of those tools already exists, scientists say. It's a relatively new set of techniques called optogenetics that allows researchers to control the activity of brain cells using light.
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 2:04 pm
Thailand's government has rejected a call from the country's Election Commission to delay a February vote to choose a new parliament, as protesters opposed to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra increasingly resort to violence to disrupt the polls.
Anti-government demonstrations have been going on for weeks as "yellow shirt" protesters — most drawn from the ranks of Thailand's urban middle class — have sought to oust Yingluck, whose government was elected in a 2011 landslide, mostly with support from the country's poorer, rural farming communities.
McDonald's has decided to shut down a website aimed at providing work and life advice to its employees after it was reported that it had urged workers not to eat the very fast food they are hired to produce.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's said Thursday that information on its McResources Line site had been taken out of context thus generating "unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary," according to a McDonald's spokeswoman.
Originally published on Thu December 26, 2013 11:12 am
Whether or not you like the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, this news may warm your heart:
Jon Kitna, who is coming out of retirement to be the team's emergency quarterback on Sunday, plans to donate his $53,000 paycheck from the game to the Tacoma, Wash., high school where he now teaches math and coaches football.
Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 6:09 am
Go to the doctor with knee pain, and they might say you've got a meniscus tear and need surgery to fix it. But surgery for this common problem might not be any better at relieving pain than having no surgery at all, according to researchers who went to the trouble of performing fake surgery to find out.
The gold standard for medical research is a randomized controlled trial, but it's hard to sign people up if they might undergo pretend surgery.